The folklore may have been around for centuries, and the book released to rave reviews in 2013, but we would not be surprised if most Malaysians do not know about the story behind Malaysian author Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride. Most Malaysians are after all obsessed with a good, scary ghost story.
A historical novel that meddles with the fantastical, The Ghost Bride touches on a Chinese tradition not many speak of, but may still practise till this day: ghost marriage, in which the bride, the groom or both are deceased.
For the lead character Li Lan’s case, she is to marry into the wealthy Lim family to save her family from ruins. It’s a filial duty any woman would partake to honour her family, but it does bring about complications when the groom, Tian Bai, is dead.
The Ghost Bride the novel has piqued the interest of many since its release; it was even picked as Oprah’s Book of the Week. This year, we will see the fantastical world of The Ghost Bride set in the 1890s colonial Melaka come to life on Netflix from January 23 onwards.
The emerging Taiwanese actress Huang Peijia is Li Lan in Netflix’s first Malaysian produced Chinese series. Malaysian actor Kuang Tian, on the other hand, is Tian Ching, the ghostly groom who draws Li Lan into the parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where he has built a kingdom for his bride.
Besides that, Canadian-Chinese Hollywood star Ludi Lin, known for his roles in Power Rangers and Aquaman, plays the Lim family’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai; while Taiwanese actor Chris Wu takes on the role of the cheeky Er Lang.
An adaptation of a Malaysian author’s book, featuring Malaysian actors, shot and produced solely in Malaysia, then cap that off with two Malaysian directors – Quek Shio Chuan and Ho Yuhang overseeing the production of this six-part series… that’s enough to make one burst with homegrown pride, doesn’t it?
What was your initial reaction when you were approached to work on The Ghost Bride?
Quek: Up to this point, I’ve only just done commercial advertisements; the furthest I’ve gone in terms of non-commercial filmmaking is my BMW Shorties winning short film Guang that I have adapted into a feature length film. The Ghost Bride is my first co-directing project for a series. How do I feel? Well, I welcome it as a new experience to my filmmaking career; it is, after all, a new filmmaking format. So, I’ve approached the project with clear eyes and a learning heart. As it turns out, it is a fun storytelling experience, especially working with Yuhang and fellow Malaysians like Jordan Voon, Susan Leong and Angeline Tan.
Ho: When they first approached me for the project, my initial thought was: you must’ve gotten the wrong guy (laughs)! My portfolio showcases a completely different set of filmmaking skills that The Ghost Bride calls for. However, I thought that it would be good for me as a filmmaker; it’s going to open up a whole new world for me. I have read the book before, and I felt that it has the pull to get the audience’s attention. It prompted me to accept this project with a carefree spirit, and it has allowed me to work with a bunch of rather talented actors.
“During the script stage, we have a lot of similar ideas for The Ghost Bride; that is the first sign that we will be working towards the same goal”
How would you describe the synergy between the both of you?
Ho: I don’t think it was that difficult to establish a collaboration with Quek. I mean, if just one of us were to direct all six of the episodes, that would be rather taxing. Between the both of us, we were able to divide the workload perfectly. During the script stage, we have a lot of similar ideas for The Ghost Bride; that is the first sign that we will be working towards the same goal – the same shooting style, the same storytelling style… Since the beginning, we were already able to hammer out the bumps we may face along the way. There weren’t much conflicts, I don’t think so, no.
Quek: And we weren’t shooting The Ghost Bride chronologically either; on the same day we may be shooting episode one and say, episode four. That allowed us to cross check with each other, and minimise on potential miscommunications between the directors.
“I welcome it as a new experience to my filmmaking career. I’ve approached the project with clear eyes and a learning heart.”
Ho: It’s not to say that when Quek worked on the first three episodes, I the latter three, I wasn’t around when he was directing, you see. I’d still be on set to see how the cast progressed with their characters, and how Quek staged the scenes with them. Those moments were just as important for me as when I took on as the director in terms of continuity. It was also a chance for me to familiarise myself with what the cast is comfortable with; the kinds of communications with Quek they were used to that I may need to execute too on my part when it was my turn.
What would you say is the plus point of The Ghost Bride being a Netflix production, in comparison to the other local productions you have both worked on in the past?
Ho: I’d say that we had a pretty comfortable production. I mean, we have four assistant directors, and in total we have up to 120 cast and crew working on The Ghost Bride. It’s not to say that we have a bigger budget, so we get to hire more people; it is necessary, because this production and the scale of it is bigger than our usual projects. A lot of co-ordinations were called for: we were running up and down the Peninsular shooting the series, to and from Penang, Ipoh and Johor – not to mention, during Chinese New Year last year! Every single person on the set has something important to do.
The Ghost Bride premieres on Netflix on January 23
The article was first published in the August Man Malaysia Jan/Feb ’20 issue